Category Archives: Bullying

Bullying Law Will be a Challenge for New Jersey Schools

A new state law in New Jersey to curb bullying in their schools is being called the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation, and it’s receiving both support and apprehension.

The new law, called the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was motivated by public uproar over the suicide of Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, almost a year ago. It requires all public schools to adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”) to increase staff training, and to comply with strict deadlines for reporting episodes.

Each school is required to designate an anti-bullying specialist, whose job it is to investigate all complaints of bullying in their school, and each district must appoint an anti-bullying coordinator. Additionally, every effort made by districts will be evaluated by the State Education Department, which will post grades on its website. According to superintendents in the state, educators who refuse to comply could lose their licenses.

While many parents and educators are more than willing to do what is necessary to control bullying both in schools and online, some school board members and superintendents across the state claim that this law, which is slated to take effect tomorrow, goes way too far. They also complain that they have not been given the additional resources it will take to meet the demands this law will place on their schools.

Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators said, “I think this has gone well overboard. Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day. Where are the people and the resources to do this?”

In general, schools are using their guidance counselors and social workers to take on the role of anti-bullying specialists. While this may seem like the best alternative, it raises concerns as to whether they have either the time or experience to investigate every complaint of harassment or intimidation as well as filling out the detailed reports that are required, all the while fulfilling all their usual job-related obligations.

An additional concern of some administrators is whether making the schools legally responsible for bullying both in and out of school will make them more vulnerable to complaints and possible lawsuits when students and parents are not satisfied with the outcome of their investigations.

To prepare for the implementing of this law, thousands of school employees spent part of their summer attending training sessions, and more than 200 districts purchased a package compiled by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD. Cost of the package? $1,295!

Some of those who attended left feeling, like Meg Duffy, a little overwhelmed with the mandates of this new law. A counselor at the Hillside Intermediate School in Bridgewater, she said that there had been an increase in cyberbullying at her school last year, with students texting and/or posting mean comments about other students. These are the kinds of situations this new bill would demand that schools get involved with as well as bullying at school.

Districts are also required under this law to appoint a safety team including teachers, other staff members, and parents at each school. Their job would be to review complaints. It also requires principals to begin investigations of reports of bullying within one school day of the bullying episode. Superintendents need to provide reports to Trenton two times a year which contains details of all of the bullying episodes their district deals with each year.

One district that is taking this law very seriously is the East Hanover district. They have partnered with Crimestoppers, a program of the Morris County sheriff’s office, with the intent of making the reporting of bullying easier. But the fact that Crimestoppers will accept anonymous text messages, calls, or tips to its website is a little frightening. These anonymous tips will be forwarded to schools and local police officials.

This district is spending $3,000 to train its staff, including coaches, cafeteria workers, custodians, and substitute teachers. Joseph L. Ricca, the district’s superintendent, said, “We really want to be able to implement this new law and achieve results.” But he added, that the law’s “sheer scope may prove to be a bit unwieldy and may require some practical refinement.”

 “The whole push is to incorporate the anti-bullying process into the culture,” Lucila Hernandez, a school psychologist, said. “We’re empowering children to use the term ‘bullying’ and to speak up for themselves and for others.”

At North Hunterdon High School, students will be learning that if they see bullying, they have a responsibility to try to stop it because there is no such thing as an innocent bystander.

Dr. Margaret Dolan, the Westfield superintendent expressed concern that, due to this new law, both parents and students may find it easier to call minor disagreements bullying, instead of trying to find ways to work out their differences. 

 “Kids have to learn to deal with conflict,” she said. “What a shame if they don’t know how to effectively interact with their peers when they have a disagreement.”

Now, I must admit, as much as I advocate developing stronger anti-bullying policies in our schools, this law seems so big and so unmanageable that I fear it is going to create chaos. There is simply no way that every single reported incident of bullying is going to be handled within a day by already overworked principals, and that superintendents will be able to find the time to fill out the detailed reports on every incident that is investigated. These expectations are unreasonable when no additional resources are being provided.

The other huge problem I see with this law is the reporting, just as Dr. Dolan said, of every frivolous disagreement between students, which would further inundate the specialists and principals in an avalanche of reports to be investigated, making it difficult or impossible to get to the serious incidents of bullying that really do require intervention.

Finally, the idea of taking anonymous tips is extremely problematic. I am sure that some kids will use this opportunity as it is intended; to report incidents of bullying that they would be afraid to admit to publicly. But you can’t tell me that some wouldn’t view this as the perfect opportunity to get back at someone they harbor a grudge against by calling in a bogus tip just to get that person in trouble, or maybe even to take the spotlight off of their own bullying.

I am all for tougher anti-bullying policies in our schools, and I believe the intent of this law is commendable. I just fear that it is such an overwhelming venture that the likelihood of its success is bleak. I would hope that, if it does prove to be too wide in its scope, future revisions might make it more manageable and more successful.

Good luck New Jersey! I would not be upset if you prove me wrong!

PA Photographer Takes a Stand Against Bullying

How many of us would willingly lose money at work, if by doing so, we could send a clear message to bullies that their behavior is unacceptable? Well, Jennifer McKendrick, a small business owner, put her paycheck on the line to do just that!

Teen Bully

Jennifer is a photographer in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, who is employed by many parents to take their children’s senior pictures. She told Channel 4 Action News’ Ashlie Hardway that she was on Facebook one night and discovered a locally-made page promoting bullying of some of the local high school seniors. When she noticed that some of the bullies were girls who she was supposed to photograph, she decided that, not only was she not going to take their senior pictures, but she was not going to take pictures of any “ugly” people anymore.

Jennifer told Hardway, “I don’t want to photograph them, I don’t want them to be a part of my business image and I don’t want them on my blog. It was beyond ‘your clothes are ugly’ or ‘you don’t have any brand clothes’ or ‘you are ugly, your hair is not right.’ It was vicious. It was talking about sexuality.”

The page identified certain students by name and attacked them. (Cyberbullying at its ugliest!)

Jennifer took screen shots of the online comments, sending them to the four girls’ parents with the following message:

“I am writing to cancel your shoot scheduled _________ due to some recent events brought to my attention. After stumbling upon a Facebook page called (name removed), I witnessed mean and cruel behavior coming from _______. I am returning your depositing of $212.00 and I’m afraid will need to find another photographer for your daughters senior photos. I want to protect the image of my business and the mean and hurtful things she has said on there is not the type of client I want to represent my business. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and I hope you understand my reasons for doing so. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this matter any further.”

“I got a couple responses that said ‘thank you for letting them know,’ that they were unaware what was going on and that they would take care of it,” Jennifer said. 

Jennifer also blogged about the incident on her website explaining why she did what she did and declaring that she would not photograph anyone who behaves this way to other people. The blog, titled “I Won’t Photograph Ugly People,” explains that after Jennifer saw the Facebook page, she posted the following comment on Facebook:

“If I’m wrong, please speak up. I came across a page on facebook that was created (by someone under a ficticious name) thats purpose is to bully,  ridicule and say mean and hurtful things about their class mates. While visiting the page, I found several teenage girls that have scheduled sessions with me for their senior pictures. I am emailing them tomorrow to cancel their shoots. I do not want them to represent my business and I am beside myself at how MEAN and CRUEL they were on that page.” (Clearly Jennifer was upset, as you can tell by her typos, which I will not correct in order to relay information exactly as it appeared.)

She stated in her blog that while she was writing the email she intended to send to the four girls’ parents, hundreds of comments began pouring in, most of them stating their total support and admiration for her decision.

She also stated in her blog that she clearly cannot screen every client to determine whether they are bullies, but that in this situation, “it was right in front of my face. I saw it with my own eyes.” And in order to explain her decision, she stated, “it wasn’t hear say, it was right there..with their smiling face right beside such an ugly statement. I couldn’t forget about it, I mean how I could spend 2 hours with someone during our session trying to take beautiful photos of them knowing they could do such UGLY things. Realistically, I know by canceling their shoots it’s not going to make them “nicer people” but I refuse to let people like that represent my business.”

She went on to say that since she is a small business owner, she has the luxury to make decisions regarding who she will photograph, and she boldly stated, “If you are ugly on the inside, I’m sorry but I won’t take your photos to make you look pretty on the outside!”

While Jennifer has received hundreds of comments supporting her actions, not all of the comments she has received have been supportive. In a follow-up blog on her website, she answered some of the negative questions which were raised regarding her decision.

In some instances, she reported that people had made “very mean, hateful, cruel comments.” In fact, some people, including four of her clients, accused her of being a “Facebook stalker who was using Facebook to prescreen or check out her clients.

Jennifer explained that the bullying Facebook page came to her attention when a former colleague of hers, who is a Facebook friend, posted a comment on her page, which Jennifer, as a parent of a small child herself, clicked on to read further. Here is what her colleague had sent her that tweaked Jennifer’s curiosity and led her to the infamous Facebook page:

“If bullying has ever affected your life in any way, please help in this very small way to reduce bullying in Indiana. Go on the Facebook page (left blank in Jennifer’s blog) and report it as inappropriate. It only takes a couple of minutes. And then say a prayer of compassion for the person who set it up.”

Jennifer explained in her second blog that when she went to the page her friend had posted, she discovered her four clients were involved in the bullying. She felt that taking these girls’ pictures would make her a hypocrite, “when they did such ugly things and it went against everything I am trying to teach my daughter.”

Some even accused her of being a bully themselves because she called these girls “ugly.” She blogged that she was clearly referring to their actions and not their physical appearance when she called them ugly.

She wrote, “People aren’t born mean, it’s something they are taught to do or that they do by CHOICE. They were making a choice to be mean and I was making a choice NOT to be part of it or to be part of my business. For those of you who say I should keep my personal beliefs out of my business because it makes me unprofessional. Then I will be unprofessional until the day my business fizzles. I sleep good at night.”

Additionally, some accused Jennifer of starting this whole thing for publicity. To this, she countered that she was writing, as she has done in the past, about her business and her personal beliefs, not for publicity. She wrote, “My original intent was not to go on an anti-bullying rally, but hey if that is the message that gets out there…is it THAT wrong. At least it got you talking about the subject, it opened up dialog for some people to talk with their children about it….is it really such a bad thing.”

Some criticized her for not releasing the names of the four girls, to which Jennifer responded, “We live in such small towns here in Southwestern PA, don’t you think by releasing those names I would in-turn be releasing the media and internet onto them completely defeating the purpose. I mean, if I’m getting mean and hateful things said about me for STANDING UP for something I believe in, can you even imagine what would happen to these 4 girls? As much as I don’t LIKE what they did, I do have compassion and empathy and I would never do that to ANYONE.”

And some accused her of depriving these four girls of having their senior pictures in their yearbook. Unlike the high school my children attended, where students all had to go to one photographer for their senior picture to be placed in the yearbook, Jennifer explained that she isn’t the contracted school yearbook photographer, in fact, there are many photographers in the area for them to choose from, so these girls can still get their senior pictures taken and placed in the yearbook.

I am sure it will come as no surprise to you, in light of my numerous blogs regarding bullying in our schools, that I not only applaud Jennifer McKendrick, I salute her! The courage it took to choose what is right over padding her own bank account speaks volumes about this woman’s integrity. And if it brought some publicity that helps in both the fight against bullying and her photography business, I’m all for both!

This story makes me wonder what would happen if more of us took a stand against bullying in our own spheres of influence? Educators alone cannot battle bullying. That old saying, “It takes a village…” comes to mind. It takes more individuals of integrity, like Jennifer McKendrick, to stand up proudly and declare that they refuse to buy into or cater to bullying anymore, no matter what the personal cost.

What do you say? Are you willing to be a Jennifer McKendrick in your own community, whether at work or at play? Are you willing to take a personal risk for the greater good?

It will take a village to stomp out bullying! Are you willing to play your part?

Children’s Book, Maggie Goes on a Diet, Facing Criticism

In "Maggie Goes on a Diet," the main character is a bullied, overweight girl who decides to lose weight, and critics are worried it's giving young readers the wrong idea about dieting.

A controversial new book is slated to hit the bookstores in October, but it already has parents up in arms over what they perceive to be its negative messages for kids.

Paul Kramer is the author of the children’s book called Maggie Goes on a Diet; a book about an overweight 14-year old who is bullied by other kids who call her “chubby” and “fatty.” Maggie decides to do something to lose weight, but she does so in a healthy way. Rather than starve herself, she begins to eat “healthy and nutritious” foods, eats less junk food allowing herself a “normal-sized treat” once a week, exercises every day, and even joins the soccer team.

So far, it sounds fairly innocuous, right? Unfortunately, Kramer begins to send a potentially problematic message when his book, written in rhyme, proclaims the results of Maggie’s efforts. The book states, “Losing the weight was not only good for Maggie’s health, Maggie was so much happier and was also very proud of herself,” and “More and more people were beginning to know Maggie by name. Playing soccer gave Maggie popularity and fame.”

So, what is causing the huge ruckus over this book? First, the title is an issue in and of itself for many parents. Many parents are concerned with the suggestion that children should go on diets, as the title seems to suggest. They argue that girls are already so susceptible to obsessing about their weight due to our culture’s focus on thin, model-like bodies.

Adrienne Ressler from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida commented, “The idea of this book makes me want to either cry or scream — actually both. It’s bad enough that the messages and images in the culture have co-opted most women into loathing their bodies, but targeting the insecurities of young girls, vulnerable to the risk of developing an eating disorder, borders on promoting high risk behaviors and attitudes that are destructive both physically and psychologically. Please take this book off the market.”

On GMA, Kramer was asked why he had to include the word “diet” in the title because it sends the wrong message. He basically said that if the title was Maggie Eats Healthy it would probably be overlooked. Probably the wrong answer for someone who, according to his own statements, is advocated exactly that; eating healthy and exercising.

This brings up another problem people have with the book: Why did he make the main character a girl rather than a boy? Cathleen Connors, the author of HerBadMother.com told The Daily Caller, “It’s so interesting that he didn’t write it about a boy, and that he uses girl-body-image stereotypes to make his point-young girl dreaming about fitting into nice jeans, etc.”

When girls are far more likely to develop eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, it seems irresponsible to target girls in his story.

Another problem with this book is that while Maggie is supposed to be a 14-year old girl, the actual reading level of the book is much lower than 14. Amazon places the reading level between ages 4 and 8, while Barnes & Noble places it between 6 and 12. Many who have posted irate comments argue that little girls shouldn’t even know what a diet is, and they certainly shouldn’t be encouraged by a book to go on one.

In an interview on Fox News, Kramer defended the accusation that his book is aimed at younger children. He said, “I’m not advocating, never did, that any child should go on a diet. First of all, this is a change of lifestyle. This is not meant to be to go on a diet.”

Yet, a few seconds later, he admitted that Maggie did go on a diet just as the title claims.

Yet another problem with the book is its indifference and implied acceptance of the bullying that Maggie experiences. At no point in the story do the bullies face consequences for their actions or show remorse for what they put Maggie through. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it seems to tell young people that if you don’t want to be bullied anymore, you need to change what is different about you rather than be accepted for who you are.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! This negates all the anti-bullying messages out there as it shifts the work from the bully to the victim. This book would have been far more powerful, as far as I am concerned, if through a series of events, the bullies had taken responsibility for their actions and learned to see the things about Maggie that make her special, instead of only seeing her as chubby.

Isn’t that the real lesson we want our kids to be learning; that in spite of our differences, we are all worthy of respect and fair treatment? This book muddies that simple message up terribly.

Which leads me to the last big problem with this book. This book has been criticized because it sends the message that being thin will make you happy, will make kids accept you, and will make you popular. Kramer took issue with this criticism saying, “If one is obese, and one loses a bunch of weight, and one becomes fit, I think the rewards of just accomplishing that is good enough.”

But that isn’t the implication in the story; the book says, “More and more people were beginning to know Maggie by name. Playing soccer gave Maggie popularity and fame.” Now, I’m sorry, but any child reading this book, especially a child from 6 to 12-years old, is going to hear the implied message that Maggie became popular and famous because she lost a bunch of weight! I don’t care how Kramer tries to spin this; the message is very clear.

The only positive aspect of this book is its suggestion for healthy eating habits combined with exercise. If the author had written a book that showed how these two healthy habits made a child healthier, most importantly, and also thinner, and that they developed these habits because they wanted to be healthier, I think parents would have praised him for his book. But this message gets lost amidst all of the other disastrous messages.

I am not advocating boycotting this book when it comes out in October, and I don’t think Paul Kramer intentionally wrote a book to get young girls to diet or to make them feel worse about themselves. But I do feel that his choice of character, his unresolved bullying storyline, the genre he chose and its readability level, and the messages this book screams out to young girls are extremely unfortunate.

Would I want my daughter to read this book at a young age? Absolutely not! Would I encourage you to let your daughters read this book? No way! Even if you are reading it with them and trying to undo the implied messages along the way, I fear that girls will only hear the message that Kramer hammered home: You will not be popular or happy if you are overweight, so you’d better go on a diet, girls!

In my opinion, Maggie Goes on a Diet is an unfortunate book with some dangerous messages. But what do you think? Check it out through this link, and let us know how you feel about it.

Jiu-Jitsu For Victims of Bullying?

I’m always interested in information that I can relay to readers about how children can defend themselves against bullying, so when I read this story about the use of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to ward off bullies, I felt compelled to share it with you. I am not advertising or promoting this program, but I find it very intriguing. Perhaps you will, too.

Let’s start with a little background. Rener and Ryron Gracie, sons of Rorion Gracie, UFC coordinator and grandsons of Helio Gracie, the legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu grandmaster, developed a program designed specifically for younger children who are the target of taunts, shoves, kicks, and punches.

They became interested in utilizing their jiu-jitsu training to give children the courage to stick up for themselves after learning that more than 150,000 students miss school every day because they are afraid that they will be bullied.

So Rener created the Gracie Bullyproof program using jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu is a calculated, mostly nonviolent form of self-defense which uses leverages, locks, and holds to neutralize a larger, stronger foe when they are both off of their feet and fighting in close proximity to each other. Rener and Ryron believe that combined with an understanding of the proper rules of engagement in a school setting, knowledge of jiu-jitsu can help a child fight of a bully.

 

Let me tell you about one child whose life was changed by this program. Martin Hendricks is a 12-year old who had been bullied for several years by other students at his school.

His mother, Wendy, said, “His grades suffered and he would never stick up for himself. He’s a nice, gentle soul kind of kid and now he didn’t even want to go to school.

Wendy learned about the Gracie Bullyproof program from an online video, and decided to take her son to California and enroll him. Martin spent a week at the academy where he was given private jiu-jitsu lessons by Rener each evening, and was taught a plan for dealing with a bully fairly.

Martin learned what is called the three T-steps:
* TALK to the bully and ask him to leave you alone.
* TELL the teacher and your parent that the bully won’t stop even after you’ve talked to him.
* TACKLE the bully and use jiu-jitsu to gain control of him without resorting to punches or kicks.

Clearly, some bullies will back off when a school administrator is contacted by the parent of the victim, and the situation may be resolved. But some bullies will continue to harass their victims, so notifying both a teacher and parent that they have been asked to stop is an insurance policy for the victim in case they need to go to the third step of this Gracie Bullyproof program.

Renner told Martin, “If you draw that line with your words and the bully respects it, the case is closed without a physical altercation. But if you draw that line and they slap you, kick you, cross that line again, you don’t think twice. You take both of your hands and push him as hard as you can in the chest. You blast him. Knock him off his feet. Then take control using jiu-jitsu and tell him you will let him go if he promises not to bother you any longer. If he won’t say it, wait until a teacher or another adult shows up before letting him up.”

As a result of his training, Martin went back to school with a little more confidence. But after being back to school for four weeks, the bullying started again. Martin said he called Rener for advice, and Rener asked him, “Martin, would you rather fight one time and be protected for the rest of your life, or do you want to get bullied for the rest of your life?”

According to Wendy, Martin agreed that he would rather fight. And the next day, Martin was harassed again by the same boy who also began to bully Martin’s friend. Then the boy began hitting Martin and threw his water bottle at him.

Martin did what he had been trained to do; he pushed the boy in the chest with both hands, knocking him to the ground, then he pinned him to the ground by placing his knee on his chest and holding his arms down. Martin held him down without hurting him until the principal showed up.

The principal took both boys to his office, listened to their stories, and called their parents. Wendy admits that she was thrilled that her son had finally had the courage to stand up for himself.

The story has a happy ending. The principal told Martin that, even though fighting was not tolerated, he felt that it was an appropriate response to what had happened. The bully apologized to Martin in front of other students, and the word spread quickly. And Martin has been bully-free ever since.

Did it work in this case? Apparently it did. Is it worth the time and the money? That’s up to you. I offer this as an option to those of you who may be at your wit’s end because you have a child who is being picked on by a bigger child and they are too afraid to do anything but take it.

I don’t know that all school administrators would be so understanding of someone like Martin who uses jiu-jitsu in their school. But I do believe that children have the right to defend themselves from attack, and this program seems to give children the courage to stand up for themselves without inflicting injury.

For those of you who might be interested, you can either enroll your child in the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California, or other certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Training Centers around the world, or you can order the Gracie Bullyproof program which is available on DVD. Go to GracieAcademy.com for more information.

Grades May Suffer When Teens Get Bullied

With school starting again in districts all over the country, it is important for those of us in education to remember that in order for our students to learn and be successful in our classrooms, we must provide a safe environment in which children feel accepted and encouraged by their teachers and their peers. In other words, we need to work together to build bully-free schools.

Bullying in School & How It Affects a Childthumbnail

We all know how common bullying is in schools, and we have certainly seen the terrible consequences of relentless bullying. The website eHow family recently provided some important information regarding this subject, and I would like to share some of its more salient points and conclude with a recent study regarding bullying and its possible affect on grades.

First, we are already aware that often bullies are kids who have been bullied themselves and are trying to regain some power by dominating someone else. But eHow family tells us that often these kids who become bullies were either abused by adults or witnessed some type of domestic violence at home. These kids generally target someone who is different or socially isolated to continue the pattern of abuse. 

Kids who are bullied may experience problems in school, such as trouble concentrating. They usually experience difficulty interacting with their peers because they are self-conscious and afraid of rejection, especially if the child who is bullying them is accepted and liked by other children. The victim may begin to steer clear of school activities like class reports or presentations and group projects. Some will even stay home from school, resulting in excessive absences which lead to poor academic performance.

The self-image of a bullied child is adversely affected due to the emotional pain of name-calling and verbal harassment and the physical pain if they are being pushed, hit, etc. They begin to fear that all of their peers see them as the bully does; weak, or a “loser”. They may even begin to feel that they somehow deserve the bullying, which will negatively affect their social skills. And often, fear that they will be tormented even more if they tell an adult keeps them silent.

As children get older, their increased size and hormonal changes make them more aggressive. As a result, victims of bullying are at risk for more serious injuries. And both the victim and his bully have a greater risk of behaviors that include dropping out of school, running away from home, or alcohol and substance abuse. Teens who are bullied, as we have certainly read in recent news reports, may even become suicidal.

There are some devastating long-term effects of bullying which can last well into adulthood. Victims may have difficulty trusting others, fearing that they will always be hurt and betrayed which can affect their friendships and other relationships. It is also likely that that their relationship issues will affect future educational and career opportunities. A common issue shared by victims and bullies is anger. Victims may even hold on to a desire for retaliation.

Now, preliminary results from recent research indicate that bullying may contribute to a drop in high school students’ grade point averages (GPAs). The study polled 9,590 students from 580 U.S. high schools, and here’s what researchers found.

Compared to those who weren’t bullied, students who were bullied in tenth grade experienced a 0.049 drop in their GPA between ninth and twelfth grade.

Lisa M. Williams, the lead author and a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University, had this to say in a news release: “This effect, though small, is highly significant and suggests that bullying negatively affects GPA even after factoring in previous grades, family background and school characteristics often associated with achievement, which are all variables the study controls for.”

These effects were stronger among high-achieving black and Hispanic students. Black students, for example, who had a 3.5 in ninth grade and then were bullied in tenth, experienced a 0.3 points decrease by the time they reached twelfth grade. The drop was more significant for Hispanic students who started with a 3.5 GPA in ninth grade and reported being bullied in tenth; they experienced a 0.5 point decrease in their GPA by twelfth grade.

When you compare those statistics with those of white students with a 3.5 GPA in ninth grade who were bullied in tenth, their decrease was only 0.03 points by twelfth grade. So what is the difference?

“Stereotypes about black and Latino youth suggest that they perform poorly in school,” Williams said. “High-achieving blacks and Latinos who do not conform to these stereotypes may be especially vulnerable to the effect bullying has on grades.”

So, what’s the point? Very simply, no matter how you feel personally about the issue of bullying in schools, it is clearly a detriment in regards to students’ ability to succeed both emotionally and academically. We owe it to our students to do more than most schools currently do to get a handle on this pervasive issue.

I volunteered recently to take a newly enrolled student who is attending our school this year to escape ongoing bullying at his previous school. My question is this: If schools are doing all they can to establish a zero tolerance of bullying, why would any student have to leave a school to escape being bullied?

It is clear that we are not effectively resolving bullying issues in our schools. Too many of us have the attitude that bullying has always been around, will always be around, and we aren’t going to be able to stop it. We need to change that way of thinking.

I am not naive enough to think that all bullying is going to be irradiated in our schools, but we certainly owe it to our students to make it a priority to teach children at an early age that bullying is unacceptable. We need to teach, as part of our curriculum, how to affectively get along with others even when they are different from ourselves.

Every essential skill that students need to learn to be successful in and out of school requires repeated reinforcement. So too, interpersonal skills need to be reinforced just as persistently.

And when bullying occurs in our schools, we need to act every time, relaying the clear message that our schools are bully-free zones.

We can change the way children interact with other children, but like anything else we teach, it will take time, perseverance, and commitment. I think it’s well worth the effort.

What about you?

UK Study Shows Teachers Face Cyberbullying from Pupils and Parents

Keyboard

A very interesting story out of the UK reports that children aren’t the only ones subjected to online bullying; a surprising number of teachers are as well. Here are the facts gathered from a research study by Plymouth University.

Professor Andy Phippen, who teaches at Plymouth University, questioned almost 400 teachers earlier this year on behalf of the UK Safer Internet Centre regarding the issue of cyberbullying, and his findings were rather startling. Around 377 professionals were surveyed directly and 35 helpline cases were analyzed, and the information gathered showed that 35% of those who participated acknowledged that they or a colleague had been a victim of some form of online bullying.

The forums chosen for bullying ranged from abusive campaigns on Twitter to postings on Facebook accounts. But here is the most surprising finding; 72% of the bullying was perpetrated by students, but the other 26% was instigated by parents!

Pippen told Huffington Post UK, “Everyone acknowledges this is a problem and something needs to be done about it, but schools lack support. It is a sticky area as some of the things posted may not be considered illegal.”

During Pippen’s questioning, teachers told of Facebook groups, chat rooms, Twitter accounts, and other online sites that had been set up to berate and insult them. And the walls and protection the Internet offers increases the viciousness of online attacks.

The other surprising information Pippen gleaned from his research was that schools, in general, were not very supportive of teachers who reported that they were being cyberbullied. 

“If you have a member of staff feeling isolated or depressed, which are often the symptoms of bullying, they will turn to senior management. I heard of one case where a teacher told his employers about the bullying and not only did they tell other members of staff to ignore this teacher, they also suspended him. Their reasoning was ‘there is no smoke without fire,’” Pippen reported.

He went on to say, “The parental statistics were particularly surprising. Schools are definitely playing down the severity of the issue, whether it’s because they just don’t realize, or because they don’t know how to deal with it.”

One of the headteachers he questioned told of a parent at her school who launched a 12-month campaign on the Internet, posting potentially libelous untruthful statements about her teaching practices.

“I eventually had a mini breakdown in the summer holiday and needed an emergency doctor to be called out-as I had become suicidal. I had intensive support from the mental health unit via my GP,” the unnamed teacher reported in the study.

Professor Phippen is asking for a nationwide support network to deal with the problem of this type of cyberbullying, saying, “I think coordination and consistency in this area would be incredibly helpful. Schools are giving knee-jerk reactions to a complex issue which needs addressing.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers in the UK (NUT) is reminding teachers to refer to their guidelines if they are the victims of cyberbullying. I have provided a link to these guidelines, which provides dos and don’ts such as:

• You should not post information and photos about yourself publicly you wouldn’t want colleagues, pupils or parents to see.
• You should not befriend pupils on social networking sites.
• You should not personally retaliate to any incident.

Pippen’s personal comment regarding his research is the best way to end this blog, as he states what I would have said much more succinctly. Here is what he had to say:

“It seems, to a subset of the population, the teacher is no longer viewed as someone who should be supported in developing their child’s education, but a person whom it is acceptable to abuse if they dislike what is happening in the classroom. We live in a society where we expect teachers to be subjected to this abuse. It simply is not acceptable. We wouldn’t let a child verbally abuse a teacher in the playground-why should it be allowed to happen online?”

Amen!

Rebecca Black Withdrew from School Due to Bullying

Have you seen 14-year old Rebecca Black’s music video “Friday”? If you haven’t, you need to follow this link to understand what I am blogging about today.

Rebecca started this past school year in Orange County, California, like any other 13-year old, but all of that changed in March. That was when she starred in her first music video, “Friday,” with the financial backing of her mother who paid $4,000 to have music producers write the song and make the video, which was then posted on YouTube. Her mother claims it was the best $4,000 she had ever spent because over time, it has hit 167 million views.

Not all of the attention she has received as a result of her music video has been supportive, however. While “Friday” launched Rebecca’s career, it also launched huge debate over whether it was the worst song ever written. Some of the worst comments include: “Her song ‘Friday’ is one of the worst songs I have ever heard in my entire life, even deaf people are complaining,” “my ears are bleeding,” and “her voice sucks.”

I must admit that the lyrics are repetitive and, at some parts, quite cheesy, but she didn’t write the song, and it was her first experience in the music industry. Is there no room for kindness here?

Parodies of her musical video hit the internet. Celebrities even got in on the act. Taylor Hicks, a former American Idol winner, and Conan O’Brien joined in the mocking on television.

But, as the ABC reporter interviewed Rebecca about the harsh criticism she has received, she sits calmly with a smile on her face and finally says, “They can say things like that just to get to me.”

And ever since her video aired on YouTube, Rebecca admits that she has faced a multitude of bullying, with kids at school mocking her song by singing it with a nasally voice, or saying things like: “Oh hey, Rebecca, guess what day it is?”

Then there’s the cyberbullying, where she reads messages such as: “You’re so fat,” “You’ll never be pretty,” “You suck at singing,” “I hope you go die,” and “I think you should get an eating disorder because that will make you prettier.” (I can only chalk this up to jealousy, as she is a beautiful girl, or just plain stupidity!)

The teasing became so relentless, that Rebecca and her mother decided to withdraw Rebecca from her school, and her mother has become her teacher, too.  When her mother was asked by ABC News why she pulled her daughter from school, she explained, “It’s hard to go to school when you are so famous and to have kids constantly making fun of what’s going on.”

Rebecca may have escaped the bullying at school, but she remains a target online. In fact, CNN’s I-Report website briefly carried a fabricated story that she was pregnant at the age of 13. Rebecca responded, “Waking up to a rumor that you’re pregnant is not fun! It’s just frustrating because I, I mean, I’m still excited over my first kiss!”

Most alarming of all is the fact that Rebecca has even received death threats! The FBI is currently involved in investigating some of these threats.

ABC’s reporter acknowledged that Rebecca seems very grown up about the whole situation. Rebecca responded, “I’ve had a lot of experience with not being liked. I think if I hadn’t had to deal with that in the past, then I totally would have handled this differently, and I would have gone done in burning flames. But I’ve learned that you just can’t let it get to you!”

While Rebecca has been harshly criticized, she also has some staunch supporters. Simon Cowell, for one, who told People Magazine that he “loves her and the fact that she’s gotten so much publicity.” He went on to say, “People are so upset about the song, but I think it’s hysterical.”

Katy Perry invited Rebecca to star in her own music video for “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” and she joined Perry onstage last week on her Los Angeles tour stop, where the two joined in a duet to Rebecca’s “Friday.”

And Lady Gaga defended her saying, “I say Rebecca Black is a genius, and anyone that’s telling her she’s cheesy is full of %#*&!”

She also won a Teen Choice Award and has made enough money with her music to put herself through college. She is using what she earned from her first musical video to finance her second. Appropriately called “My Moment,” this song is a perfect rebuttal to those who have teased, taunted, and maligned this very mature, sweet, young lady.

Rebecca explained what made this song so personal to her, “The first line is, ‘Weren’t you the one who said that I would be nothin’?’ which is basically saying that to everyone out there that has said that. And the next line is, ‘And now I’m about to prove you wrong’ because I am! I am worth something, and I will be big!”

I admit that I was both captivated by Rebecca’s innocence and her fighting spirit. This is a young girl who has faced some horrific bullying, enough to make her leave her school, but she has learned “you just can’t let it get to you.” She has my support, and I will use her as an example to my own students about how to rise above bullying and be the victor.

Rebecca Black is worth something, and I hope she will be big!

Bully-Ridden Schools Result in Lower Test Scores

Teenage Girls Bullying

I guess it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that new research reveals that schools where bullying occurs on a regular basis have lower test scores overall than those that have only occasional bullying. The significance of this study is clear; if bullying has been proven to affect test scores, it is just one more reason for schools to take a stronger stance when it comes to developing and practicing anti-bullying policies.

On August 7, at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., researchers reported these findings: School wide passing rates on standardized tests are as much as 6 percent lower in schools were bullying occurs frequently compared to schools where bullying is infrequent.

How was this discovered? Well, in 2007, researchers in Virginia gathered surveys about bullying from more than 7,300 ninth-graders and about 3,000 teachers at 284 Virginia high schools as part of an ongoing study of its high schools’ safety. On the surveys, bullying was defined as “the use of one’s strength or popularity to injure, threaten or embarrass another person on purpose. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. It is not bullying when two students of about the same strength argue or fight.”

Bullying

Interestingly, the surveys revealed that in schools where students reported severe bullying, the passage rates on standardized tests for world history, earth science, and algebra 1 were anywhere from 3 to 6 percent lower than in more or less bully-free schools.

“This difference is substantial because it affects that school’s ability to meet federal requirements and the educational success of many students who don’t pass the exams,” University of Virginia psychologist Dewey Cornell said.

He and his colleagues speculate that students who are bullied may be distracted and more worried about getting through the day than they are about passing a test. Then again, schools with a greater number of bullies may simply be more dysfunctional overall. They also suggest that teachers might be so busy disciplining bullies in these schools that they are distracted from classroom activities.

Cornell and his fellow-researchers admit that at this time it’s unclear whether the bullying directly causes the lower test scores or if a bad school climate nurtures bullying and bad test scores. But research demonstrates that bullying can harm victims mentally as well as physically. We certainly have read enough news reports regarding students who have made tragic choices due to relentless bullying to prove that this is so. But what you may not know is that bullies are also at risk for substance abuse and mental health problems.

Cornell concluded, “Our study suggests that a bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance. This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a school wide problem rather than just an individual problem.”

So, there you go! Just in case schools need one more reason to get serious about bullying, you can now add lower standardized test scores to the list.

NAAFA Advocates Want Anti-Bullying Bill to Protect Overweight Kids

Boy, I don’t know about this one. I definitely would love some feedback on the latest report regarding additions some want added to the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require all districts and schools that receive federal funding to implement codes of conduct which prohibit bullying and harassment, according to the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania. Additionally, the law would require each state to compile data on cases of bullying and harassment in their schools and report that information to the U.S. Department of Education. 

An advocacy group called the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance  (NAAFA) contests that overweight children face significant harassment and bullying at school, therefore, they are asking lawmakers drafting the Safe School Improvement Act to list other characteristics students are bullied for rather than just race, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality in this bill.

This group wants to discourage children being bullied because they are heavier or shorter than their peers, and they feel that these characteristics need to be specifically spelled out in order to accomplish that goal.

Jason Docherty, an association board member explained, “One in six children are being bullied. Eighty-five percent of those bullying cases are children of size or with visible handicaps. So a federal law that does not protect those children is a federal law without teeth.”

National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance spokeswoman Peggy Howell says people of all ages face bias.

Peggy Howell, the spokeswoman for the NAAFA explained yesterday that while this group founded in 1969, has traditionally fought to end bias against overweight adults, “now we are talking about people of all ages.”

In her statement, she criticized first lady Michelle Obama for launching her Let’s Move campaign which emphasizes weight loss among children.

“When our first lady said we have to wipe out obesity in one generation, she essentially gave permission to everyone to condemn the children with higher body weight,” Howell said. “The perpetrators feel justified in their actions because, after all, the first lady said these kids have got to go.”

She went on to say that “this is one of the consequences of focusing on reducing body size, as opposed to improving health,” although she acknowledged that she didn’t believe that Michelle Obama meant any harm by her campaign.

So, the NAAFA group plans to lobby lawmakers and their staff members on Capitol Hill to persuade them to add physical characteristics to the Safe Schools Improvement Act as it works its way through Congress.

First, I am astounded that Howell turned Michelle Obama’s campaign into one that “condemns” overweight kids and “justifies” the bullying of these children. And certainly at no time did the first lady say “these kids have got to go.” We most certainly have a problem with obesity in children, and it is a physical health concern. These children are more inclined to face diabetes and other serious health issues at a very young age.

Michelle Obama has taken on the Let’s Move campaign because kids in general are more sedentary than they were in the past, and many of them do not eat well. Just because there are kids who are obese does not mean they have to remain obese. Through exercise and proper diets, most of these kids can reduce their body weight and their risk of serious health problems. Why wouldn’t Howell support this movement which will ultimately improve their life style as well as their self-esteem?

Second, please do not misunderstand what I am going to say here because I do realize that students are bullied for being overweight. I’ve seen it, and I’ve dealt with it in my classroom. It is wrong, just as bullying for any reason is wrong.

But here is my question: Where do you draw the line in your list of characteristics to include in this policy? If you say overweight, you’d better say thin. If you say short, you’d better say tall. What about big feet, big noses, and big ears? Don’t forget freckles, warts, pimples, and moles. Oh, wait; what about frizzy or curly hair? And there are always kids who wear glasses or hearing aids. What about kids who get teased because of the clothes they wear, the music they like, the books they read? And, I almost forgot; we’d better include kids who read too fast or the ones who read too slow. Then there’s always…

I think I’ve made my point. If legislators give in to this group’s demands, they’d better be ready to be inundated by all kinds of advocates out there wanting their own sensitive issue included in the wording of the law.

In my opinion, this is a pointless, waste of time and will only serve to slow down the passage of this law. Here’s the thing: bullying is bullying, whatever the reason. We know it when we see it, and we don’t need to list every physical characteristic or quality to deal with it.

So, how about a compromise? What if the Safe Schools Improvement Act includes additional wording, such as “physical characteristics and physical handicaps” along with race, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality? Would that satisfy everyone?

Sometimes less is best.

CDC Survey: More Risky Behaviors Among Gay and Bisexual High School Students

The results of a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were published on June 6 in the CDC’s journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. What it says about gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens is rather alarming and tends to support the need for schools to communicate more openly and honestly with students regarding LGBT issues and bullying.

The study used national Youth Risk Behavior Survey data from 2001-2009, and found that rates of smoking, drinking or other drug use, risky sexual behaviors, suicidal behaviors and violence were higher among gay or bisexual teens as compared to straight students. These surveys were conducted in the following areas: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin and in six large urban school districts: Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego and San Francisco.

The study, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 in Selected Sites—Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2001–2009″ highlighted findings across 76 health risks in these categories:

* Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries
* Behaviors that contribute to violence
* Behaviors related to attempted suicide
* Tobacco use
* Alcohol use
* Other drug use
* Sexual behaviors
* Dietary behaviors
* Physical activity and sedentary behaviors
* Weight management

Where sexual identity was assessed, gay or lesbian students had higher frequency rates for 49% to 90% of all of the health risks measured, and higher rates for these health risk categories: behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management.

Bisexual students had higher frequency rates for 49% to 90% of the health risks measured, with higher rates for these health risk categories: behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries, behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management

Howell Wechsler, director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH), said in an agency news release, “This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools, and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people. Any effort to promote adolescent health and safety must take into account the additional stressors these youth experience because of their sexual orientation, such as stigma, discrimination and victimization. We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks.”

Laura Kann, chief of the Surveillance and Evaluation Research Branch at DASH, added in the news release, “For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally and physically safe and supported. Schools and communities should take concrete steps to promote healthy environments for all students, such as prohibiting violence and bullying, creating safe spaces where young people can receive support from caring adults, and improving health education and health services to meet the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.”

While national, state, and local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) are conducted every two years, this is the first time the federal government conducted a study of this extent over such a wide area of states, large urban school districts, and risk behaviors. States that are interested in gathering this kind of information may add questions to the survey which measure sexual identity as well as the sex of sexual contacts.

What this study suggests, and Wechsler and Kann are legitimately advocating for, is the need for schools to take a much more open approach when dealing with matters of real or perceived sexual orientation. The days of ignoring these issues in our schools are clearly a thing of the past, due to the very risk factors described in this study.

The bottom line is that all students, be they gifted, learning disabled, overweight, underweight, gay, lesbian, straight, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc., have the unalienable right to be safe in the schools they attend. And that is only going to happen if school districts and the educators employed by these districts openly deal with issues of alienation and bullying which can be so emotionally and physically destructive to our students.